Milwaukee’s craft beer scene is booming, with ten new breweries opening in the area in 2016 alone. With so many to visit, it’s difficult to narrow down the best ones. Here are a few favorites… two old and two new:
Lakefront Brewery/Beer Hall
According to Brewery President Russ Klisch, the craft beer business started for him when his brother, Jim, expressed interest in beer making, and Russ humored him by giving him a homebrewing book. Impressed with Jim’s beer, Russ decided he could brew one better. In short, sibling rivalry and common interest led both brothers to begin entering homebrewing contests and winning awards. It wasn’t long before family and friends encouraged them to turn their hobby into a business.
They began brewing with 55-gallon stainless steel drums and used dairy equipment. On December 2, 1987, they sold their first barrel of beer to the Gordon Park Pub. With the brewery up and running, the infamous tour started soon after! As Lakefront’s popularity grew, so did their production: by 1988, sales jumped to 72 barrels; by 1989, 125 barrels; and sales began doubling after that.
The tour is one of the best in town. The guides are extremely enthusiastic, especially when the tour is conducted by one of the Klisch brothers. It was one of the first brewery tours where they allowed you to drink beer before, during and after the tour. One of the fun parts is hearing the theme from Laverne & Shirley while they demonstrate the bottling line.
The craft beer brewery is located in a large beer hall space, with tall ceilings, brick walls, and communal tables. It’s right on the riverfront, with a patio in the back. The brewery transformed from a basic beer hall, where beer was only available with the tokens that you’d receive on a tour. Then they became popular for their Friday night fish fry. Now they serve a variety of basic bar food all the time (counter service) and all the beer is available for purchase at the bar.
Some options are salads, sandwiches, tacos, pretzels, cheese and wurst boards, as well as desserts. On a recent visit, they had 12 beers on tap. They are also one of the first breweries in the country to feature organic and gluten-free beers.
Favorite craft beers:
• Eastside Dark Munich Dunkel – Sweet and roasty flavor, beautifully smooth and drinkable, not at all intimidating.
• Fuel Cafe Organic Stout – Excellent, inviting aroma, full-bodied, roasted malt in full evidence.
Sprecher Brewing Company
Sprecher Brewing Co. was founded in 1985 by Randal Sprecher, formerly a brewing supervisor at Pabst Brewing Company. From 1985 to 1994, the brewery was located at 730 W. Oregon Street in Milwaukee’s Walker’s Point area. Through the first ten years the company grew steadily, as more and more people found out about Sprecher’s high-quality craft beers and sodas. Finally, the company had outgrown its original facility and began looking for a new location to continue its growth. In 1994, Sprecher purchased its current building, located at 701 W. Glendale Ave., a former elevator car factory. The new, larger brewery enabled the company to continue growing.
The Gift Shop/Tasting Room is open Mon-Sat 11am-6pm, Sun 11am-5pm. Tours are available daily for $6; check the website for times. You must call ahead for reservations.
Back in the day, Randal Sprecher would handle brewery tours, which were made memorable thanks to his obvious passion for the craft. For a bit of a different experience, try one of the Reserve tastings offered on weekends for $20. Reserve tastings are done in smaller groups than the regular tour/tastings and feature the company’s premier and limited edition products. Each guest will receive ten samples of Sprecher craft beers, each paired with a different artisan cheese.
They offer five year-round beers, five premium reserve, plus seasonal beers, as well as a large variety of sodas. They are well known for their root beer.
Though they don’t serve food at the brewery (other than cheese), they have opened four pubs, located in Glendale, Lake Geneva, Madison and Wisconsin Dells. The Lake Geneva location is a favorite, right on the lakefront with a nice outdoor deck. The Glendale pub is also nice, located in the Bayshore Town Center mall. They have a very good menu with German and American options, happy hour Mon-Fri, as well as varying daily food specials.
Black Bavarian – Best Schwarzbier brewed in the U.S.; Huge roasty character, big malty body.
Located just outside of Cedarburg, The Fermentorium opened its doors early in 2016. Kristopher Volkman is the founder and president, a locally raised homebrewer.
Currently offering ten beers on tap with plans to expand, the craft beer brewery also distributes to restaurants and bars all over Southeastern Wisconsin.
The tap room is currently open Tue-Fri 4pm-10pm, Sat-Sun 12pm-10pm. It’s a modern space, very open, comfortable place to hang out and drink beer. The brewing area is in the right half of the room, separated by a wall of windows so that you can view the process.
For a newly opened establishment, they are already making several outstanding craft beers, so it was difficult to narrow down favorites.
Favorite craft beers:
• Strawberry Tart – Berliner Weisse; great combo to balance sourness and strawberry.
• Safe Passage – Porter; huge roasted malt flavor, malty aroma pervasive, an outstanding example of the style.
Good City Brewing
Their motto is “Seek the Good.” The first craft beer brewery on Milwaukee’s east side, Good City opened in June. The three founders connected in 2015 and immediately hit it off, sharing a love for craft beer and the untapped potential of Milwaukee. Andy Jones is a brewmaster who left Goose Island Brewing in Chicago to move to Milwaukee and work for Lakefront Brewery as plant manager for six years. David Dupee is an entrepreneur with a background in securities and regulatory compliance, founder of crowdfunding platform CraftFund, which was formed to help food and beverage companies raise capital from passionate customers and local residents. Dan Katt is a Milwaukee real estate developer.
Good City has a modern, airy tap room with a large bar area, outdoor seating, and shiny fermenters just out of the wrapper. The menu offers a good variety of taproom snacks, cheese and meats, salads, brewery food, and dinner entrees. No more than seven options in each category, so the choices are not overwhelming (a good thing). There are several vegetarian items. There are ten craft beers on tap.
Favorite craft beers:
• Pils – Medium body, hoppy Czech style, smooth as silk.
• Detail Porter – Dark, deep color, roasted coffee and chocolate flavors dominate; an outstanding example of the style.
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